3.22 Graduation Day, Part 2
**Read along on pages 212-215 of Bite Me!
And now for part 2 of why fans bitched about Buffy’s broadcast schedule in season 3. As I mentioned back in “Earshot,” they pre-empted the episode about Jonathan coming to school with a gun because it was to air only days after the Columbine school massacre (and lines like Oz saying that school shootings was bordering on trendy didn’t help). It was a good call, because the wounds were still very fresh in a world still reeling from it, and while the episode had a good message about why these things happen, it was just too soon.
But then... on May 24, 1999, the WB decided to pre-empt Part 2 of “Graduation Day.” Oh, they played Part 1. They left things on a cliffhanger. But apparently, as I ranted in Bite Me, there was a rampant fear that kids would show up to their graduation days with weapons, since the fear of giant snake demons was apparently on the rise. While Whedon agreed to the “Earshot” decision, he simply couldn’t fathom how delaying the finale was a good idea in any reality.
Meanwhile, north of the border, in cold, arctic Canada, Canucks huddled around their television sets in their igloos, watching the only channel available. (This is the sort of fantasy the WB probably envisioned when it thought of their viewers.) See, in Canada at that time, certain stations bought the rights to shows with the caveat that they be allowed to air the shows first. This was before Napster and file sharing, so there wasn’t a fear that someone would record the episode and put it on the Interwebs like there is today. Networks in the US often agreed to this, so Canadians got to see shows a day early. The WB made the decision to pull the finale the night of Monday, May 24, the day before it was to air in the US. Problem was... it had just finished airing in Canada. We Canuckians had just finished watching the episode and were thrilled by it, not knowing our poor neighbours to the south were about to lose out altogether.
When Joss Whedon discovered what had happened, and that certain northern fans had seen it, he immediately sent out a notice to Canadians, and I quote: “BOOTLEG THAT PUPPY!!”
And so... we did. I personally went onto a message board and said I’d be happy to send tapes (yes, tapes) to anyone who would pay for the shipping and the $2 cost of the tape. I began getting emails within seconds from upset American fans saying they didn’t get the episode. (Remember... this was BEFORE file sharing. I know this must sound positively prehistoric to some readers.)
And then I got a note from someone who worked on the show itself. She said she wanted to help out, and she sent me a copy of Earshot so I could see it, and she also sent me this awesome tape of the dailies from “I Robot, You Jane,” so I could watch the gang shoot scenes over and over again, goofing off (and Alyson swearing like a trucker) in between cuts while poking each other and constantly laughing. After I received Earshot, I began adding that to the tapes I was sending out, and soon Americans were getting my tapes – and the tapes from other Canadians – and passing them around. I sent out dozens of them.
And that is why I’ve seen both Earshot and Graduation Day over 30 times each... I typically had to be in the room to record them and switch from one show to the other when taping. And no matter how many times I’ve seen them, I still love both episodes.
So, with a giant snake and a bunch of explosives, we say goodbye to season 3 and Sunnydale High. But tune in to this blog later this week, because I’ve got a special surprise for y’all... I went to Sunnydale High in person in 2003, and took a lot of pictures. I’m getting them scanned right now, and will be posting them for you so you can see what that school really looks like (hint: It looks a lot like it does on Buffy!!)
• Xander: Guess who our commencement speaker is?
Willow: One of the tigers?
Xander: Come out of the fantasy, Will.
• Xander calling Wesley “Monarchy Boy.”
• I adore the Mayor’s goody-two-shoes attitude to everything, even while he’s set to be the most horrific demon on earth. “‘The beast will walk upon the earth and darkness will follow. The several races of man will be as one in their terror and destruction.’ Aw, that's kind of sweet. Different races coming together.”
• “What are you doing?” “Panicking.” ♥♥♥
• Angel comes into the room by tripping loudly over a mop. Buffy: “Stealthy.”
• Xander: “Boy, it’s a good thing no one ever wanted to check out any of these books, huh?” LOL! Exactly what fans had been joking about for years.
• Oz’s response when Willow tells him Angel thought she was Buffy: “You too, huh?”
• I’ve always loved the eroticism of the slow-mo scene of Angel and Buffy falling to the floor as he drains her.
• The entire scene in the library with the gang planning the attack on the Mayor.
• Buffy: “Am I crazy?”
Willow: “Well, crazy is such a strong word.”
Giles: “Let’s not rule it out, then.”…
Cordy: “I personally don’t think it’s possible to come up with a crazier plan.”
Oz: “We attack the Mayor with hummus.”
Cordy: “I stand corrected.”
Oz: “Just keeping things in perspective.”
• Mayor to his vampire lackies: “No snacking! I see blood on your lips, it’s a visit to the wood shed for you boys.”
• Snyder’s hilarious speech: “This is a time of celebration, so sit still and be quiet.”
• Buffy realizing with horror that the Mayor’s going to be doing his full speech. Willow: “Just ascend, already.”
• No matter how many times I’ve seen this episode, that part where the Mayor begins flipping through his index cards telling them he had this whole section on civic pride never fails to make me LOL.
Did You Notice?
• Without spoiling, I’ll just say that the professor Faith killed was a volcanologist. That’s hilarious if you’ve seen season 7. And if you haven’t, wait for it. ;)
• Does anyone else watch scenes with Wesley and Willow and try to see if they’re looking at each other at all?
• A lot of people have suggested that Eliza Dushku is a one-note actress, but she’s very tough in this show, and much softer in Dollhouse. Both are characters who have to be strong, yet vulnerable, but she plays them very differently.
• When Buffy goes to Faith’s to kill her, she’s wearing the outfit that her season 3 action figure has on.
• The dream sequences on Buffy are always masterful. In the dream sequence with Buffy and Faith in “Part 2,” there are many things that probably make no sense to the newcomer right now, but they will mean something to you by the end of the series. Joss was already anticipating major things to come, and he dropped hints about them in this ep.
• While it would appear that Wesley may have been taking advantage of a young girl when he kissed Cordy, Charisma Carpenter was actually 29 when they filmed that scene (Alexis Denisof was 33).
• They are SO not sitting in alphabetical order at the graduation ceremony.
• Fastest eclipse ever.
Now on to our guest hosts for the week. As always, if you see a white space and you're not a first-time watcher, highlight it with your mouse to see what's hidden underneath (warning for the newbies: There be spoilers!)
First up, our beloved Steve Halfyard, who will tell us all about the music from this week’s ep!
Graduation Day (Parts 1 and 2) give us a new kind of season finale in the Buffyverse. On one level, it's not new at all: we have definitely been here before, with Buffy in danger, apocalypse threatening, death and mayhem all around, and people sort of but not entirely dying. First it was Mr Fruit-Punch Mouth trying to open the hellmouth; then it was Angelus trying to open a gate into a hell dimension. First time Buffy died (but only briefly); second time, Angel died (only not – we say he died but actually he just spent a few hundred years being tortured). So one similarity is that again tone of the principal characters maybe sort of dies only not dies: Faith is the one having a semi-death but not the real thing.
The first difference is that no one is opening anything: the big bad evil is the ascension where the Mayor transforms himself from an invincible man into a large snake. It does sometimes seem to me that when characters decide to be the big bad they lose all sense of perspective and logic. (Spike mused on this himself in season 2 when he enlisted Buffy's help to get Dru back: his line about liking the world the way it is, with people like happy meals on legs is one of my favourites). The Master's desire to open the hellmouth was completely understandable: he was stuck inside it and wanted to get out – anything else getting out was collateral damage, about which he gave not a fig. Angelus's reasons for getting the world sucked into a demon dimension were altogether less clear in terms of what he was going to get out of it (did he just think it might be fun?); but why the Mayor wants to give up his opposable thumbs is beyond me. There he is, a hundred years old and change, running his own town, minions to do his bidding, probably gets his moist towelettes and supply of mints courtesy of the municipal budget, and he wants to give this all up to be a large snake. Has it occurred to him that a lack of hands is going to make using moist towelettes very difficult? And lack of feet and shoes to wear upon them means he's going to be in full bodily contact with the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) everywhere he goes? It doesn't seem like a great plan for someone who is germ-verse. And what is he going to do with his days? No more mini-golf, that's for sure. Surely munching down Sunnydale's citizens will pall after a while.
But enough of that. The big difference is that for the first time, Buffy is up against her shadow double. The idea of the shadow double in Buffy is something scholars have been talking about ever since Faith came on the scene: she is the dark Slayer, quite literally, brunette to Buffy's blonde. She's that bit taller, her voice is that bit deeper, she likes to wear leather (something Buffy emulates in the big fight scene), she is that bit more reckless and daring, but she lacks Buffy's unerring moral compass, she sticks her stake in the wrong body and now she's gone over to the dark side. And so they line up for the final showdown, Buffy against Faith with the Mayor positioned as a shadow double for Giles as the older man taking on the paternal role for a girl with no father of her own in the picture. Spoilers now (I don't normally) but the shadow doubles pile up as adversaries after this: the Initiative doubles the Council of Watchers at the global level, with the soldiers on the ground, Riley among them, doubling the Scooby Gang; Giles again finds a double in Maggie, competing for Buffy's trust; Adam is a truly horrific double for Buffy, the demon-hybrid creation of the Initiative as we ultimately learn the slayers were the demon-hybrid creations of the original Council. Season 5, Glory is a very pretty double for Buffy, what Buffy might be like if she applied her preternatural abilities to superheroic amounts of shopping instead of the saving the world. It gets altogether more complicated in the final two seasons, but that's a long way off – suffice to say that where we have had finales so far which simply pit the Slayer, her Watcher and her friends against an enemy, for the first time the enemy looks like them.
Well, I suppose I should mention the music, shouldn't I? It does have some rather special moments in this double episode. My focus is definitely on the sequence that links across the break between parts 1 and 2. If there was anywhere that we were going to get the death motif, it would be here, surely? Well, yes and no. The motif is absolutely absent in any form until about a minute from the end of Graduation Day part 1. And even then, it isn’t quite our death motif: it’s something similar, something related, but different; and what’s more, it isn’t new – we’ve heard it before; and we’re going to hear it again.
But let’s start here, in this episode, right in the middle as Buffy and Faith fight. The fight music itself is superior Beck – he always does fights well, but this is good even for him. Buffy pulls out that knife – and stabs Faith with it. Faith has never believed Buffy really has it in her to be ruthless – 'you did it' she says, 'you killed me'. The music at this point is very high pitched, a slow ascending motif (F-G-G-A flat, if you are interested) and is, in fact, a version of the death motif, an inversion. That's the thing about motifs (as Danny Elfman would tell you – he's the master of this kind of transformation): you can play with them, write them backwards and upside down, but it is still all the one musical idea at root. In the original death motif, we have a falling major second in a basically descending motif; here, it’s the same intervals but the opposite way round, an ascending major second in an ascending motif. In the context of the episode, this is logical: the death motif is the threat of death but here it appears that Faith has actually been killed, the threat realised: we’re somewhere new now, and so is the music. But the other musical idea embedded in this new version of the motif is the series theme tune itself, which is also characterized by the same pattern of these rising three notes. As Faith utters her final lines and falls from the roof we hear a saxophone (very unusual instrument for Beck) playing a short phrase which is a very clear reference to the theme tune but again with an inversion – in the theme tune, you get three rising notes and then a fourth one, lower; here the fourth note is bumped up an octave, but it's still the four notes that open the theme. As slayer kills slayer, we have a musical idea which recalls both the theme tune that identifies the slayer and the death motif that has pursued them both across the second half of this season.
But I said this new version of the death motif, which I like to call “you killed me”, is actually not new at all: and we hear this exact idea in the episode where Buffy and Faith have their first real, physical fight with each other: 'Revelations', episode 7 of this season, where Gwendolen Post sets Faith and Buffy against each other. They fight; Faith realises that she has been duped by Gwendolen but it's too late – she's clearly humiliated by being the slayer in the wrong. At the very end of the episode, Buffy goes to the motel to make peace with Faith. It’s as she leaves that we hear “you killed me” for the first time, as she stands on the motel steps, low in pitch now, but very clearly the same musical phrase. There have been some tensions from the start with the two slayers, but this is the first time that Buffy feels the need to tell Faith 'you can trust me' – just having to say that points to the fact that she realises that the trust is gone. This is a very important moment in things going wrong in their relationship, and the music marking that moment in episode 7 comes back in the season finale, at the absolute climax of their conflict: it frames the start and end of their clash in season 3.
So, on to Graduation Day Part 2. An interesting thing about the previously-on segments is that they don’t normally use thematic material from the episodes: there are a small number of cues and themes that Beck uses specifically for scoring previously-on material that is utterly distinct from the themes of the episodes themselves. But not so here: the previously-on music in both parts of Graduation Day is the same. When we hear it at the start of Graduation Day part 1, it might passed unnoticed; but when you hear it at the start of part 2, especially if you've just finished watching part 1, it's hard to miss that it has lot in common with the death motif and 'you killed me' – it's a thing called thematic development which means you take a motif and you constantly rearrange its parts to create things that are simultaneously new but also part of group; and this ploddingly ominous melody (minor thirds have become major thirds, major seconds have become minor seconds) is definitely part of the group.
And if we were in any doubt, this then merges into the teaser, and the previously-on music transforms into a combination of the notes of the original death motif itself played on a solo cello – real, not synthesized, but in the shape of 'you killed me' (repeated note in the middle of the phrase). Again, picking up from ideas at the end of the last episode, we also have elements of the theme tune coming out: after a couple of renditions of the death motif, the music starts to move upwards in phrases that all start with the three notes of the theme tune. So effectively we have three different ideas here in the music – the 'you killed me' idea that stands for Faith’s apparent death, with the notes of the motif that have been warning us about the death of slayers for the last eleven episodes, and the theme that symbolizes Buffy's calling as slayer, all rolled into one: but as she leaves, and the mayor arrives on the scene, they collapse back into the old familiar form of the death motif itself as he stands at the broken window looking out at the scene of the battle: the threat, the fear of death is now his as he worries about Faith, reassuring himself that she'll be all right.
So, a little three note motif that starts in 'Helpless' (or maybe even earlier, back in 'Revelations') carries us right the way through to the climax of the season, transforming along the way, accruing meaning, those meanings changing as the plot develops. It’s not a big theme: until the finale it doesn’t draw much attention to itself at all, but it’s there, and it’s speaking to us if we listen. I mentioned that we hear the 'you killed me' idea again and we do, way into season 4, but that's for another day.
There are a couple of other musical ideas from this finale that are worth mentioning: firstly, the music that we hear early in part 1 when the Mayor and Faith are in her apartment and she tries on her summer dress. The music here is lovely – a sort of Aaron Copland pastorale that describes his love for her: that's one of his strengths as a character that the music helps to bring out. Whatever his other flaws, he does genuinely love Faith for herself – it’s another aspect of the doubling of the relationship between him and Faith, and Buffy and Giles, that the father's love and the daughter's trust are absolutely sincere. The music in the dream/ coma sequence for Buffy and Faith is another really lovely cue that's also going to come back again in season 4 (hmm, I wonder where that will be?!).
Thank you, Steve! And now, Jennifer K. Stuller! Jennifer was last with us to discuss the season 1 finale, “Prophecy Girl,” and she’s back with another excellent rundown of this season’s finale.
Jennifer K. Stuller
“We don’t need heroes so much as recognizing ourselves as heroes.” – Joss Whedon
“Fire Bad. Tree Pretty.” – Buffy Summers
I’m thrilled to be back guest posting for the Great Buffy Rewatch of 2011! And wouldn’t you know it? I asked for another season finale.
Last time, it was “Prophecy Girl” – the conclusion of an arc that took Buffy from girl to girl hero. This time, with “Graduation Day” we conclude both the arc of season three itself, as well as the arc of the high-school-is-hell metaphor in which the series is based. We see our Scoobies graduate from Sunnydale High – the school built on a hellmouth – as well as navigate some of the more formative experiences of life. You know, losing your virginity to your werewolf boyfriend, saying goodbye to your vampire lover, killing a demon, putting your mortal enemy and metaphoric dark side in a coma, blowing up your school . . .
Of course, I didn’t do any of these things. (Okay, not all of them.) But I did graduate with the original class of 90210 back in nineteen-ninety (cough cough cough – Google it if you must).
Now I can’t prove that Redwood High was built on a hellmouth, but there was a rumor – started by a playful art teacher – that the school was designed by the same architects as a famous local state prison. An impossibility considering they were built over a 100 years apart. (Unless Mayor Wilkins was somehow involved . . .)
Regardless, it sure felt like prison.
And one of the things that strikes me most about this rewatch is how often contributors have spoken to how Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes them feel. One of the brilliances of the show is that it resonates with us emotionally – as much as it might entertain or intellectually stimulate. Even for those of us who are re-watching and know what’s going to happen, it continues to make us feel – a sign of truly engaging storytelling.
We, are story-experiencing.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I’ve been drawn to write on season finales. They provide some of the most rewarding resonance and emotional punch, simultaneously resolving storylines in a satisfying, if occasionally, maybe even necessarily, painful way, as they foreshadow the future. And “Graduation Day” has it all: love, loss, sweet sex, sexy sex, pain, a kick-ass rumble, a mighty battle, riddles, pop culture references, metaphor, the funny, explosions, high stakes, and flame throwers. Because, according to Whedon, “you gotta have flame throwers.”
“Graduation Day” explores the changes that come from growing up and moving forward in our life journeys. Buffy leaves the Watcher’s Council. Willow loses her virginity. Wesley, though he doesn’t quite have the backbone he will grow, realizes what’s truly important and where loyalties should lie. Anya struggles with adolescent hormones and becoming a new person (quite literally, a person). The world as we know it is ending . . . again. And Buffy and Faith continue to reflect two sides of a “What if?”
What if Buffy killed a human? What if Faith had a supportive and loving family?
The “Light “ and “Dark” symbolism we’ve seen between the two Slayers begins to blur. Buffy, self-sacrificial and “good,” and Faith, selfish and “evil,” prove emotionally complicated and morally gray. Faith basks in the loving support of her father figure (as Buffy does with Giles) just as we see Buffy willing to murder a human – not for pleasure, but definitely with intention. If Buffy kills Faith to save Angel, will she lose herself? Will she become her shadow double?
And what of the big battle? Isn’t high school an extended campaign culminating in one last contest and, hopefully, victory celebration? Aren’t you surprised that sometimes it happens with the help of people you didn’t even know you could count on?
Whedon has said that
“The idea of the whole school coming together was thematically a big part of the arc of that season. Buffy had always been a loner. The [Scoobies] had always been outside. The idea that all the kids – it’s like in [the episode] “Earshot” – it’s sort of the idea that they all had their own pain – and we sort of took that and said ‘and now they’re all going to band together – they’re all going to fight together.’”
Buffy, with the support of the Scoobies, draws on the recognition her student peers offered her in “The Prom” with their gift of the Sunnyale High “Class Protector” award to secure their aid in the big, and possibly final battle.
She is able rally the graduating masses because her leadership, and commitment to protecting the innocent, inspires bravery and dedication in others.
As I wrote in Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors this recognition of Buffy’s compassionate and often anonymous heroism inspires the students to recognize their own heroic nature when she asks them to risk their lives to save the world.
Thus, once again, the hero myth is turned is on its head as Buffy enables everyone’s heroism. This reaffirms Whedon’s statement that, “We don’t need heroes so much as recognizing ourselves as heroes.”
When the students remove their gowns to reveal weapons – flame units, archers, hand-to-hand combat – I cheer.
But this story is about so much more than the battle. It’s about the journey.
The Mayor, evil though he may be, said it best:
“What is a journey? Is it just distance traveled? Time spent? No, it's what happens on the way. It's the things that shape you. At the end of the journey, you're not the same. Today is about change. Graduation doesn't just mean your circumstances change, it means you do. You ascend to a higher level. Nothing will ever be the same. Nothing.”
“Well, look at you. All dressed up in big sister's clothes.” – Faith to Buffy, and dear God, do I love when they throw down.
“I’m not gonna say goodbye.” – Angel tells Buffy he’s just going to leave after the fight, and breaks our hearts
“There is something I can do that I can do better than anyone else in the world.” - Buffy sends her mom away to safety and Joyce finally trusts her daughter.
“I’ll drop you a line sometime.” – Wesley
“That’d be neat.” – Cordy
Cordy and Wesley’s embarrassing kiss. – Yeah, we should have seen that coming. But what we can’t predict is how unbelievably sexy Wes will become.
“When I think that something could happen to you, it feels bad inside, like I might vomit.” - Anya struggling with her transformation from vengeance demon to insecure high school girl. Here she merely serves to move the plot along – being the only person alive to have seen an ascension – but you will fall in love with her. Reasons might include: Bunnies, Fruit Punch, and a promise involving the phrase “sex poodle.”
Oz panics – and don’t you just love them together?
Angel drinks Buffy, and as Whedon notes, the erotic scene was one of their thinner metaphors. It’s damn sexy what with all the grabbing, the falling, the taking. (And the sucking and moaning.) It also totally reinforces why Angel. Needs. To. Leave.
The Oh, SNAP!
“It’s just good to know that when the chips are down, and things look grim, you’ll feed off the girl who loves you to save your own ass.” – Xander, who is pretty harsh, but again reinforces why Buffy and Angel – even with the big eternal love – are ultimately toxic for one another.
“I just don’t want to lose you.” – Xander, worried Buffy will turn to the dark side if she kills a human.
“I managed to ferret this out of the wreckage. Now it may not interest you but I'd say you earned it.” – Giles, who gives his slayer her diploma
“Just take what you need.” – Faith gives her strength to Buffy. They are an undeniable part of each other (And Buffy will say something similar to Willow in a future season.)
“Any boys that manage to survive will be lining up to ask you out.” – Mayor Wilkins, on Faith’s sundress
“Tea is soothing. I wish to be tense.” – Giles, on preferring coffee, even though it tastes like Colombian lighter fluid
“You got fired and you still hang around like a big loser. Why can’t he?” – Cordy, who always says exactly what she means
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” –Xander, on the foldout illustration of the snake demon
“We don’t knock, during dark rituals?” – The Mayor, who values good manners
“I say we attack the mayor with hummus.” – Oz, on what shall forever be known as “The Hummus Offensive”
“Congratulations to the class of 1999. You all proved more or less adequate.” – Snyder, who got exactly what he deserved.
“My god, he’s gonna do the entire speech.” – Buffy
“Man, just ascend already.” -- Willow
“Evil.” – Buffy (On Mayor Wilkins speech, which took a hundred years to write, and echoes themes in the episode about change, growth, friendship, and destiny)
“Well, Gosh.” – the mayor’s last words
“Fire Bad. Tree Pretty.” – Buffy, whose brain can only handle so much
“Guys, take a moment to deal with this. . . . Not the battle. High School. We’re taking a moment. And we’re done.” – Oz, who really does have great hair
“Little Miss Muffet Counting Down from 7-3-0.” – You either know, or you’re going to have to wait!
The “There’s Something in my Eye”
The moment when Angel steps out of the smoke and he and Buffy see each other – and he doesn’t say goodbye, but he lets her know he’s okay, is usually when I start sobbing like . . . well, like a schoolgirl.
Now, if someone could just wake me when it’s time to go to college, that’d be great!
Next week: We begin season 4 with... me as your guest host.
4.1 The Freshman
4.2 Living Conditions
4.3 The Harsh Light of Day
For those of you following along with Angel (and I hope that's most of you!) you need to watch:
1.1 City Of
1.2 Lonely Hearts
1.3 In the Dark
**Read along in Once Bitten on pages 105-112.
**And for the Lost fans out there, see if you can spot a certain Lost regular in the Angel pilot. You'll squeal when you see it. ;)